Common community Attitudes

Common community Attitudes

1) People should work out their own mental illness

Not true. When people have a physical health concern, they generally take some action, and often go to thedoctor. Mental illness is associated with disturbances with brain functioning and usually requires professionalassistance. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people have been reluctant to seek help.

2) Once you have a mental illness, you usually have it for life

While it’s true that most mental illnesses are lifelong, they are often episodic, which means that the symptomsare not always present. Just like people who live with chronic physical illnesses like arthritis and asthma,people with mental illnesses can, when their illness is managed, live positive and productive lives.

3) Females are more likely to have a mental illness than males

Men and women are both equally affected by mental illnesses in general, but there may be higher rates amongwomen of specific illnesses such as eating disorders. There may sometimes be higher rates in women for otherdisorders such as Depression. Men have higher rates for some disorders such as alcoholism and ADHD.

Some illnesses are relatively equally shared by both men and women (e.g. bipolar disorder).

Women are more likely to seek help for mental and emotional difficulties and to share their concerns withfriends compared to men. Females are more willing to let friends know if they are receiving counseling.

4) Medicine should never be used to treat a mental illness

Medication can be a very effective part of treating a mental illness, but it is not always the best nor only type oftreatment. For many people with a mental illness it is a necessary part of their care. A wide range of appropriateinterventions, including medication, counseling, social, vocational and housing-related supports, as well asself-help and generic resources for all community members (such as: groups, clubs, and religious institutions)may also be important in helping people recover and stay well.

It is helpful to think of medications as often necessary but not sufficient treatments for many mental disorders.

The best approach is to have a combination of strategies that have been scientifically proven effective.

5) People with a mental illness are usually violent and dangerous

People with mental illness are generally not more violent than the rest of the population. Mental illness plays nopart in the majority of violent crimes committed in our society. The assumption that any and every mentalillness carries with it an almost certain potential for violence is not correct. However, a small number of peoplewho have a mental illness where they may have lost their ability to distinguish what is real and what is not realmay commit an unusual, violent act. This can be unusual and is therefore sensationalized in the media, leadingto the mistaken belief that all people who have a mental illness are violent.

6) Most mental illnesses can be diagnosed before age 25

Many of the major mental illnesses begin to appear during adolescence and early adulthood. About 70% of allmental illness can be diagnosed by age 25.

7) You can tell by looking at someone whether they have a mental illness

Generally, you can’t tell if a person has a mental illness based on their appearance. Sometimes, when peopleare experiencing an acute episode of their illness, their behaviour may be bizarre, especially if they areexperiencing an episode of psychosis.

8) People with a mental illness are generally shy and quiet

There is no causal relationship between personality characteristics and tendency to develop mental illness.

Some mental disorders such as Depression and Anxiety Disorder can lead people to avoid or limit socialcontact.

9) Mental illness can happen to anybody

This is correct. In fact, it’s very likely that you, a family member or someone you’re close to will experience amental illness at some point in their lives.

Social distance is an indicator of public attitudes towardpeople with mental illness.

Social distance is a complex concept influenced by a number of factors, including age, gender, socioeconomicand cultural factors, but also by the respondent’s general attitude toward mental illness.

Contact, or social inclusion of people with mental illness with the rest of the population, is one factorthat may lead to a decrease in stigma. This can happen when people find out that a coworker, neighbour orfriend is struggling with mental illness, and despite it, is living on their own, working and being a part of thecommunity.

Reducing Stigma – What Works?

There is no simple or single strategy to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, butsome positive steps can be taken. Research is showing that negative perceptions about severemental illness can be changed by:

• Providing information based on reliable research that refutes the mistaken association betweenviolence and severe mental illness and that presents the scientifically-based causes of mentalillness.

• Effective advocacy and public education programs can help to shift attitudes and contribute tothe reduction of stigma.

• Proximity or direct contact with people with mental illness tends to reduce negativestereotypes.

• Programs that help people to become better integrated in the community through school,work, integrated housing, or interest-based social groups not only serve to promote the individual’smental health by reducing exclusion, but also can play a part in gradually shifting commonly-heldnegative attitudes.

• Treatments and supports that work to help people recover.

• Better mental health literacy is important. Understanding mental illness and their treatments is an important counterbalance to uninformed opinion.


If you are well-informed about mental illness, you will be better able to evaluate and resist the inaccuratenegative stereotypes that you come across.


These individuals can describe what they find stigmatizing, how stigma affects their lives and how theywould like to be viewed and treated.


Most of us, even mental health professionals and people who have mental illness, use terms andexpressions related to mental illness that may perpetuate stigma.


Keep your eyes peeled for media that stigmatizes mental illness and report it to any number oforganizations. Get in touch with the people – authors, editors, movie producers, advertisers – responsiblefor the material. Write, call or email them yourself, expressing your concerns and providing more accurateinformation that they can use.


When someone you know misuses a psychiatric term (such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, OCD,

etc.), let them know and educate them about the correct meaning. When someone says somethingnegative about a person with mental illness, tells a joke that ridicules mental illness, or makes disrespectfulcomments about mental illness, let them know that it is hurtful and that you find such comments offensive and unacceptable.


Don’t be afraid to let others know of your mental illness or the mental illness of a loved one. The more mentalillness remains hidden, the more people continue to believe that it is a shameful thing that needs to be kepthidden. However, remember that not all talking is useful. Talk in an informed way. TALK SMART!


Policies that perpetuate stigma can be changed if enough people let their elected representatives, like city

councilors, members of Provincial and Federal Government know that they want such change.


Join, volunteer, or donate money. The influence and effectiveness of organizations fighting the stigmasurrounding mental illness depend to a large extent on the efforts of volunteers and on donations. You canmake a contribution by getting involved. But, before you join make sure that what the organization is doing hasbeen proven to be helpful. Ask your teacher for information to help you with this decision.